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Rep. Meijer: This 9/11, let's protect our homeland and evacuate allies from Afghanistan

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93. These attacks claimed nearly 3,000 irreplaceable lives and sent shock waves throughout the world. They also spurred the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and subsequently the House Committee on Homeland Security, on which I serve.

The Department of Homeland Security was established to ensure that America never experiences another day like 9/11 and that, in the words of the 9/11 Commission, we never again suffer from a failure of imagination on what could come next.

In the months following the attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan, marking the start of the Global War on Terror. Like many of my fellow Americans, I was inspired to join the military and enlisted in the Army Reserve. I deployed to Iraq, serving in an intelligence unit at joint U.S.-Iraqi bases in the Baghdad area.

When I returned from my deployment, I joined Team Rubicon, a veteran-based disaster response organization with global reach. I worked with Team Rubicon to lead humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, help manage a refugee crisis and assist in New York after Superstorm Sandy, among other operations.

I know all too well how crippling a disaster can be to a community and the critical need for effective organizations like Team Rubicon to provide relief.

After leading humanitarian efforts in the U.S. and around the world, I went to work as a conflict analyst with the humanitarian aid community in Afghanistan. I ran advisory operations in southern Afghanistan from Kandahar City, managing a large team to help aid workers safely provide relief to Afghan communities in need. I had the privilege of working with our allies in Afghanistan, forming long-standing relationships with them and the Afghan people.

Now, after 20 years of involvement, the U.S. has left Afghanistan. I supported this decision from both the previous and current administrations. My military experience in Iraq and the humanitarian efforts I assisted with in Afghanistan led me to the conclusion that this was not a conflict that could end militarily, all while costing the lives of 2,461 U.S. military members and countless Afghan allies.

But let me be clear: While I have long supported an organized withdrawal from Afghanistan, the withdrawal we witnessed was rushed, chaotic and a complete embarrassment to our great nation. The humanitarian disaster that resulted is horrifying. And after 20 years of U.S. military engagement, the Taliban resumed control of the country in less than two weeks.

This nightmare scenario has allowed Afghanistan to once again become a potential safe haven for terrorists who could launch attacks against the United States.

It is painfully clear the Biden administration had no real withdrawal strategy or plan to evacuate Americans and our Afghan allies.

While our military forces are no longer on the ground in Afghanistan, our mission is not complete. It is our moral imperative to rescue every American, Afghan interpreter and ally now caught behind enemy lines. Our allies left behind are certain to suffer after they fought alongside us to displace the Taliban.

Their service was based on the promise that if we left, we would protect them and offer them safety in the United States if necessary. The consequences of not keeping that promise will be dire. The next country we enter will rightfully question whether they can trust us.

On this 20-year anniversary of 9/11, we owe it to the U.S. nationals and Afghans who helped us to evacuate them to safety. Coming to any conclusion other than one that keeps our allies safe will be a dark and shameful moment in this nation’s history.

We also owe it to the American people to ensure that we never again let a tragedy like 9/11 happen on our soil. As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I will not rest until we do everything possible to protect the homeland and repair what the Biden administration has done in Afghanistan.

I am fully committed to working across the aisle and cutting through bureaucratic red tape to quickly evacuate those seeking refuge from Afghanistan, and to make our country as safe as possible for everyone. Our actions now will define the next 20 years of U.S. homeland security.

The choices we make will either embolden terrorists or push them back into the most remote corners of the Earth.

The world is watching, and we must rise to the occasion.

Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, represents Michigan's 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.